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  • Investigate the interrelationships between ecosystem processes, habitats, functioning mechanisms and ecosystem services, especially in the Belgian Continental Shelf
  • Verify potential imbalances among the supply and demand of ecosystem services
  • Better understand and measure the environmental burdens and benefits that come along with marine operational activities
  • Steer sustainable management and multi-use of the North Sea and beyond, by identifying ways to improve the value chain, e.g. the design, technologies or process stages
  • Identify data gaps for a full sustainability assessment as an input to setup monitoring programmes



The marine environment is vital for human wellbeing and world’s economy, as can also be seen from the multiple ecosystem services (ES) it provides. Seawater bodies contribute to global food security, provide energy and other valuable resources, are a playground for tourism and offer immense opportunities for economic growth, employment and development. As a consequence, some areas are under threat from the effects of overexploitation, pollution, and loss of biodiversity due to the pressure of a wide range of human activities. Especially the Belgian Continental Shelf (BCS), a rather small area of about 3500 km², is one of the most intensively 'used' marine areas in the world. The activities are numerous and diverse, such as shipping, fishing, power generation, dredging, sand extraction, tourism and military exercises.

Most of these human activities strongly interact with the natural environment, and affect its several valuable habitats and marine fauna and flora. Multifunctional use of the marine environment is ongoing but combining activities should be done carefully to avoid overexploitation or harm to nature, which in the long run is far from beneficial to the economy and society. We should strive to optimize the use of marine resources in a multi-use context by investigating how and where different activities can be combined and complemented in such a way that they meet the requirements of industry and society without causing irreversible impacts on the marine environment. It becomes clear that we need to be able to balance the preservation of a healthy marine environment with increasing economic activities, if we want to manage the development of marine/maritime sectors in a responsible and sustainable way.

The SUMES project intends to require a thorough scientific understanding of marine ecosystems, their mechanisms and behaviour, the ecosystem services they can provide versus the ones we demand, and the potential beneficial and adverse effects of the entire value chain of human activities on the local and global environment. This means developing and applying a comprehensive and quantitative sustainability assessment method by integrating Life Cycle Assessment, Ecological Risk Assessment and Ecosystem Services Assessment, to allow businesses and governments to appraise project-related investments and develop competitive business cases, offering sustainable products and services. The method will be demonstrated and tested for its applicability to BCS; the showcase includes offshore wind energy and the advanced case tackles multi-use by combining offshore wind energy production with mussel aquaculture. As a result, the valorization potential is huge, cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary.